The Kindle Oasis is stupid expensive and stupid lovely to use

I've mentioned it online before, but here we go: Two years ago, my wife and I decided to leave our rented home behind and move into a 40-foot RV. We spend our spring and summer in Alberta, Canada where she has a job for six months of the year working as an addictions counselor. The other half of the year, we head south to Mexico and beyond so that she can work as a dive Instructor.

This might be an excellent time to point out that my partner is far more interesting than I'll ever be.

We love this life, but it's not without its difficulties. We have all the repairs that come along with home ownership and owning a semi-truck, rolled into one. Our paychecks can sometimes take weeks to catch up to us, leaving us eating rice and beans. Again. But perhaps the worst thing about living in a motorhome, for us, is that we had to get rid of our book collection. Between us, we owned hundreds of books. We looked upon them as shelves of old friends who we could turn to, no matter what life brought us. But, sometimes, you have to leave old friends behind in order to grow. A motorhome can only carry so much weight, not to mention the limited amount of space that you'll find inside of one. We packed them up and took them to our favorite used bookstore where they'll, hopefully, find new homes.

When I'm not guest blogging here, part of my job is to review e-readers. Read the rest

Cheap eBay solder vs the good stuff

Androkavo tests some of the cheap eBay solder against the brand-name stuff; it gets there in the end, but it's surely not the advertized 60/40 alloy and needs to be close to 400° before it behaves itself. Read the rest

2017's shittiest technology trends, news blurts, and stupidities

MIT Tech Review's Antonio Regalado rounds up the year's stupidest, worst moments in tech, from the guy who created his own CRISPR-based gene therapy to beef up his muscles and injected it to Donald Trump's Twitter feed to the FCC's Net Neutrality catastrophe. Of course, Juicero rates a mention. Read the rest

Infosec vs. its predators

Pundits suggest the "Weinstein moment" — a broader, deeper awareness of abusive conduct, sexual harassment and criminal sexuality — is already fading without significant change. Few of the offenders face consequences worse than losing a gig, and yesterday we learned The New York Times isn't even up to that, letting its celebrity groper keep his job and trotting out Executive Editor Dean Baquet to dismiss his admitted behavior as merely "offensive." Sarah Jeong looks at another example: the hacker community, which did a surprisingly good job of outing its "missing stairs" but has trouble banishing them for good.

In information security, as in many other industries where the accused is a prominent figure, accusations can turn into a competition of social capital, and the accused almost always wins out over their accusers. But in this community, giving an accused rapist a pass has often been framed as a moral imperative with four words: “He does good work.” The assumption is that talent is scarce and sexual misconduct must be tolerated for the good of society. Little to no consideration is given to what we lose from disbelieving victims — their technical and social contributions, any future contributions by people who quite reasonably decide to avoid a toxic culture, and even beyond that, the quiet erosion of trust among bystanders. Complicity leaves a stain on us all.

Read the rest

The history of the web in 20 seconds

Webflow's history of the web is a Bayeaux Tapestry of obsolete virtues and current vices, a superimposition of new and old bad things. It's a clever and very 2017 way to market a web design app that lets normal people keep making worthwhile mistakes on the web -- a gateway to free expression -- as it becomes increasingly technical and forbidding.

I'm startled by how comfortingly, reliably minimal the very early stuff was. Even the lurid GIF explosion in late 1990s! Simple technology made even a terrible mess accessible. Read the rest

Tech Support Gore

My new favorite subreddit is r/techsupportgore, where people who fix computers post the nightmare scenarios they find themselves in. It's not always the grand-guignol horror of Playstation 4 cockroach farms or, as pictured, loaves of solidly-baked dust. Some of them are subtle problems that can take a while to spot or which might even be invisible to nontechnical folk. Sometimes, the name is literal.

Previously: Toner Explosion. Read the rest

Telcos "selling realtime ability to associate web browsing with name & address"

Telcos provide API access to your phone's location, along with your name and address, writes Philip Neutstrom. With two links, to danalinc.com and payfone.com, he shows that these sites can access this data when your phone connects. The pages are demos for the API and serve some of the data provided back to the visitor.

In 2003, news came to light that AT&T was providing the DEA and other law enforcement agencies with no-court-warrant-required access to real time cell phone metadata. This was a pretty big deal at the time.

But what these services show us is even more alarming: US telcos appear to be selling direct, non-anonymized, real-time access to consumer telephone data to third party services — not just federal law enforcement officials — who are then selling access to that data.

Given the trivial “consent” step required by these services and unlikely audit controls, it appears that these services could be used to track or de-anonymize nearly anyone with a cell phone in the United States with potentially no oversight.

It knew my name and address and more besides, and located to me to a few hundred feet's accuracy. I certainly never knowingly opted-in to it. Read the rest

Recommended: Ifixit's Pro Tech Toolkit

Ifixit's Pro Tech Toolkit comes with 64 specialized screw bits that help my wife and I get into many restricted areas of technology.

The carrying case rolls out like a sleeping bag, with the goodies neatly tucked into tiny canvas holders, and the clever container that holds the bits is held to the carrying case by a magnet – easily detached when needed.

The set is intelligently designed; one flexible extender allows you to unscrew at 90 degree angles, perfect for working in the tight confines of a PC case. Read the rest

Compare tiny PC cases with this useful online spreadsheet

Looking for a tiny PC that still has space for a gaming-quality video card? SFF PC Cases is a remarkably detailed spreadsheet listing dozens of models, complete with cost, dimensions, volume and even important build tips. The very smallest are not practical for powerful builds, but the critical "Maximum GPU length" field is right there to help you out.

The gold-standard NCase M1 turns out to be only the 27th smallest case that can accommodate a GPU, and even the ultrawee Dan Case A4 doesn't hit the top ten! But it's also true that many on the list require fat external power bricks (if you're happy with that, the Custom Mod and S4 Mini models are astoundingly tiny, though good luck finding them for sale) or impose other brutal compromises, such as proprietary power supplies, too-severe limitations on GPU size, or plain goofy design.

The smallest case that's widely-available, attractive, and (relatively) inexpensive? And not so small that assembly will be a nightmare? Probably the Fractal Node 202. Read the rest

Why tech predictors are so terrible at the job

Enjoy Michael Mullany's review of the Gartner Hype Cycle, with all the things tech predictors got right and all the things they got wrong: "we're terrible at making predictions."

Lesson 6: Some technologies keep receding into the future

There are some notable technologies that recur on the Hype Cycle and every time they appear they seem equally scifi. Although at some point, I'm sure they will not. The most notable are:

Quantum Computing: as early as 2000, quantum computing was considered more than a decade away (and likely still is).

Brain/Computer Interfaces: (also aliased under Human Augmentation) despite notable progress on neural control of prosthetics, thought controlled computing is still a work in progress with general availability lurking at least a decade away.

When I was covering the tech beat, I'd often get annoyed because we'd use these guys as expert sources, but it was plainly obvious that many of them are just retired journos who had gone into investment consulting, with a little insight into the supply chain and none at all into the science.

Though he's not one of those types, my favorite was Gene Munster, who seemed to spend at least a decade regularly predicting the imminent arrival of an Apple TV set. He appears to have quit this year, which doubtless means they will announce one soon. Read the rest

Why we openly hate our cords

Why we secretly love our cords. Tamara Warren:

There’s a certain security in the cord. It’s the idea of connection, perhaps even dating back to our days in the womb. ... A battery, no matter how sophisticated, is fleeting. When we have our cords with us, we are in constant pursuit of power, even when we are fully charged, as a form of security. We often discover our misfortune — the loss of power — when it’s too late. The opposite of being fully charged is dead. Cords, and our attachment to them, have taken on a metaphor weighted in existentialism. There is anxiety in being too far removed. We are in a relationship with our cords.

Allow me to retort!

The cord is a chain. It's the imposition of place, perhaps even dating back to our days in the mire. ... A cord, no matter how comforting, is invariable. When we wander, we are in pursuit of freedom; we often discover our misfortune — the tether — too late. The opposite of mobility is stasis.

Honestly, I hate cords so much! The first trillionaire will be put there by batteries. Read the rest

Roland revives the TR-808

The classic beatbox – not an expensive clone or a collection of cleverly-tweaked samples – is back. Roland's TR-08 directly models the original machine's analog circuits to recreate its sound as accurately as possible with modern digital technology, and joins revived versions of the TR-909[Amazon] and TB-202[Amazon] in the company's lineup of boutique boxes.

The TR-08 brings the look, sound, and feel of the original 808 — with

stunning accuracy — to the Roland Boutique format. From the instantly-recognizable red-orange-yellow-white markings, the shape of the sequencer buttons, switches and knobs are details that have been painstakingly reproduced to match the iconic recreation of sounds. Along with the aesthetic touches, the TR-08 contains new features like 16 sub-steps for fast rolls, independent trigger out track, compression/gain/tune for instruments and a selectable modified “long decay” bass drum for more of that legendary BOOM!

Unpopular opinion time! The Boutique stuff is cute and it is best, but if you just want all the classic beats in convenient form on a modern drum synth, the Roland Aira[Amazon] seems a more pragmatic choice.

Roland recently asked Propellerheads to quit selling Rebirth too, which seems hamhanded but at least suggests the company's taking a welcome interest in exploiting its own technical heritage. The cease-n-decisting of web-based tribute toys is sad and alarming. Read the rest

"Big Browser is watching"

Coming after improvements to Firefox and continued unease at Google's life-pervading insight, this image is outperforming the ███████ ████ Virality Control Group today (via).

It got me thinking about all the promises that were made. Here's the earliest article in Google News to contain "Big browser" in its headline, published by Time Magazine on Nov. 18, 1994.

World Wide Web die-hard surfers -- many of whom tend to be privacy-rights absolutists -- have been horrified to learn that the software that guides them through the Internet could pose huge Orwellian problems. Over the last week or so, a growing number of heads-up E-mail dispatches have warned that some "browsers," including free and commercial copycats of the popular Mosaic program, quietly supply the Internet E-mail addresses of Net site visitors. These lists, critics argue, could soon be sold to the highest bidder --or even to government snoopers. "You'll go into a bulletin board that has an ad, and in a little bit of time, the manufacturer can start sending you junk mail," David Farber, a University of Pennsylvania computer science professor, told TIME Daily. The next step, Farber and others theorize, is a credit-card-like record of what you've bought over the Net and which political discussion groups you've perused. Web programmers, who never intended such consequences, are now talking about creating either "privacy buttons" or warning labels.

The concerns isolated:

• Browsers secretly collect and share personal data. • Aggregated data could be sold or shared to marketers and the government. Read the rest

A tiny Hayes modem for your tiny retro computer

The WiFi232 is a traditional old-timey old-schooley Hayes-compatible 300-115200 baud modem, no wider than its own parallel DB25 port.

Automatically responds with a customizable busy message when already in a call.

The killer app seems to be using it to get internet onto ancient retro portables like the TRS-80 Model 102, but it's been put through its paces on various 16-bit Commodores, Ataris and Apples too. Here's Blake Patterson:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92RIT_L-8jA

The purpose of the device is to act as a bridge between your serial port and your local WiFi router. It has a 25-pin RS-232 data interface and a Mini-USB connector for power — it should work with any computer sporting a standard serial port.

The WiFi232 is configured by connecting to the device’s built-in web server and loading the configuration page or by issuing extended AT configuration commands. For example,

AT$SSID=MyWifiHotspotName

points the device to your WiFi hotspot. Once things are configured (it supports 300 to 115,200 baud), just load up your favorite terminal program, type:

ATDT bbs.myfavbbs.com

and the WiFi232 “dials” into that telnet BBS. Your vintage computer thinks its talking on the phone.

It's $33 as a pile o' parts or $49 assembled, but there's a waiting list. Read the rest

iPhone killed tinkering, but only if you want to tinker with iPhone

Most tech-media takes on the iPhone's 10th anniversary are bland and self-congratulatory, but I like Tom Warren's at The Verge. He laments how Apple's pocket computer killed his inner nerd. As a youngster, he'd be constantly tearing down and building computers, even in the sweltering heat of summer. But now...

...All of that tinkering and hacking things ended for me shortly after the iPhone arrived ... When I look at modern PCs, tablets, and phones now I’m surprised at the simplicity of them. Not all of them are perfect, but technology is rapidly turning into something in the background that’s accessible to everyone and doesn’t require hours of configuration. I miss the thrill of hacking away and tinkering, but as I shout to Alexa to turn off my lights at night I can’t help but appreciate just how easy everything is now.

If anything I've had the opposite experience. I hate having to fiddle with technology because I have to if I want it to do something interesting, or simply to work in the first place. But now tinkering is all creation. Experimentation, hacking--all of it is freed from whatever technical needs I have.

Perhaps what people miss is the feeling that tinkering with tech will put them on the cutting edge of performance, will move them into the unequally-distributed future. But the same thing is now diversion, mere art, and that's not what they care about.

It's true, though, that the iPhone made gadgets boring. It's striking, when you look at the products released around that time and for years thereafter, just how astronomically ahead of the game Apple was in 2007. Read the rest

Programmer pay and indent-style: tab-using coders earn less than space-using coders

David Robinson used the data from the 28,657 people who self-selected to take the Stack Overflow survey to investigate the relationship between programmer pay and the conventions of using either tabs or spaces to mark indents, and found a persistent, significant correlation between using spaces and bringing home higher pay. Read the rest

MP3 put out to pasture

It's the end of an era, sort of: Fraunhofer IIS, the developers of the MP3 audio compression format, announced that they are ceasing their licensing program. In a blog post, spokesman Matthias Rose says that it's had a good 20-year run and is obsolete. But it's also true that the decoding patents expired last year, and the last encoding patents are soon to follow. So there's not much hope of selling any licenses in any case. Read the rest

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